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article imageCongo vote allows president to seek third term

By AFP     Oct 27, 2015 in Politics

The Congolese government claimed a landslide victory Tuesday in a controversial referendum over a bid by President Denis Sassou Nguesso to extend his 31-year rule but the opposition swiftly branded the result fraudulent.

A total of 92.3 percent of people voting in the central African country's weekend referendum to enable Sassou Nguesso to run for office approved the constitutional change, which has now been adopted, Interior Minister Raymond Mboulou said.

"The draft text of the new constitution has been adopted and will come into force as soon as it is put into effect by the President of the Republic," Mboulou said.

Official results put turnout at a high 72.4 percent, though Congolese opposition leader Clement Mierassa branded the claim "extremely scandalous".

"It shows bad faith and dishonesty. The results were fixed," said Mierassa, who heads the Congolese Social Democratic Party and is a leading member of an alliance that had called for a boycott of Sunday's referendum.

"From what we could see on the day of the vote, the announcement that turnout was more than 72 percent is extremely scandalous," Mierassa told AFP, branding the results a "fraud".

Another opposition leader had on Monday told AFP that only 10 percent of Congolese voted.

"The Congolese refused to vote," said Pascal Tsaty Mabiala of the country's biggest parliamentary opposition party, the UPADS.

According to AFP journalists in the capital Brazzaville, second city Pointe-Noire and several other areas, people had largely stayed away from voting offices on the day.

There were however long queues of voters near the presidential palace where Sassou Nguesso, one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, cast his own ballot.

The referendum, whose results had initially been expected Wednesday night, proposed two changes to the constitution, which had until now disqualified Sassou Nguesso, 71, from running for re-election in 2016.

- 'A difficult phase' -

"I vote yes" reads one man's T-shirt shirt as they wait outside a government electora...
"I vote yes" reads one man's T-shirt shirt as they wait outside a government electoral meeting on October 24, 2015, in Brazzaville, ahead of Sunday's referendum
-, AFP

The constitution stipulates a maximum age of 70 for presidential candidates and limits the number of terms to two.

Sassou Nguesso is over the age limit and has already served two consecutive seven-year terms.

After beginning his career in the military, he took power in 1979 and has been in office ever since, except for a five-year period.

Congo was rocked by protests in the run-up to the vote, including clashes Tuesday between opposition demonstrators and security forces in Brazzaville and economic hub Pointe-Noire that authorities say left four people dead.

But opposition leader Paul-Marie Mpouele claimed Friday that at least 20 people had died in the unrest, which stoked memories of the civil war that ravaged the country from 1993 to 2003.

On Tuesday, the Internet, text messaging services and French radio RFI's popular FM signal, were all cut for the eighth day running.

Congo is one of several African countries currently facing the critical question of whether heads of state should be allowed to run beyond two terms in office.

A French diplomatic source in Paris on Monday said he believed turnout for the constitutional referendum had been low, warning that the country was now "entering a difficult phase", in which it would be critical to "keep the peace, save lives and find a consensus".

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